He settled into the seat with the drink.
“That kinda tastes like chocolate milk”, she said as she glanced over at him. He nodded in reply, and she went back to her papers.
He opened up the lid of the laptop and connected the wireless. A few dozen new emails poured into his inbox just as quickly as the coffee had poured into his cup moments earlier. He braced himself – it was going to be a long afternoon.
That morning, he’d visited several clients, each more demanding than the last. He found himself with several different notes from the morning, waiting to be entered into the customer database he was logging in to. A quick scan of the emails revealed three that would need immediate attention, the rest could wait until the notes were entered. Given the loud complaints of two of the clients he’d met this morning, the faster the notes were in the system, the better. They were the type that would call up this afternoon and demand access to the perks he had recently capitulated to. No notes meant the representative on the phone would have no idea what they were talking about.
A quick sip of the drink and a long grimace as he found that Client number 1 had already called, and met with resistance by an uninformed rep. The coffee grew cold as he wrote three quick emails of his own to put out the fire he knew was starting.
He had been in this position for far too long, driving his life away, visiting clients who couldn’t care less about his life, immersed in their own struggles. About two hours into his work, he looked up at his surroundings. No one who he had seen when he arrived at the coffee shop were still there. The attendants were different, shift change had happened an hour ago. He had lost himself in the world of his work, unaware of the changes. Honestly, this coffee shop, in the middle of his territory, was more familiar to him than his own office, which he only saw in the mornings during the meetings.
“Hey Rob, back here again?”, the night manager said as he wandered out from the back.
“Yea, I suppose I should leave a bigger tip!”, he man said wearily to the manager, Joe.
“Eh, you’re not the one we wish would leave!”, Joe said with a smile. “You at least buy something, or several things, depending on how long your work keeps you here. And you do tip, which is very much appreciated by my staff”.
“Everyone has to make a living, right Joe?”, Rob said. He had just written the last email of the day, and was packing up his laptop.
“You want a refill for the road?” Rob gave Joe his cup in an appreciative manner. Joe knew that Rob seldom asked for a refill, even though his loyalty card, punched religiously, entitled him to a dozen or more if he asked.
“Joe, do you mind if I ask a question about your work?”, Rob said as he walked up to the counter.
“Sure Rob, you’ve hung around here long enough to notice how everything works though – not much I could tell you about!”, Joe said as he handed Rob the coffee.
“How many emails do you write a day?”, Rob said, half jokingly and half serious.
“Oh, I don’t know, maybe 4 or 5 – just stuff to the day manager, emails to our regional guy, nothing major, more FYI stuff”, Joe said.
“Really… and how often do you have to deal with difficult people in a day?”, Rob asked. He assumed that retail must be a special sort of hell, given his experience in business to business sales. People must be even worse to cater to, especially those seeking their daily caffeine rush.
“Actually not too many”, Joe replied with a smirk, “1 less if you leave”.
Joe’s grin made Rob laugh as he started walking out. As he got to the door, Joe called out
“Have a good night Rob, see you tomorrow!”. Rob waved back as he left.
Over the course of the next few weeks, the man spent his usual hours at the coffee shop, working and drinking enough coffee to keep him awake through the drive home. He was growing more and more tired of his job, but honestly couldn’t conceive of doing anything else. He’d been in sales for a long time, had an income to maintain, and while it wasn’t perfect, there wasn’t anything else he could do.
Until the day Joe came up to him around closing time. It had been a pretty bad day email wise, and Joe could see that the man was emotionally destroyed by the demands of his job.
“You know Rob”, Joe began “Our day guy is leaving next week – he’s going off to become a regional manager somewhere. Want to apply for his job?. Rob was surprised by the invitation. He’d never managed anything in retail before, never even worked in food service or retail in his entire life. Why would Joe ask him this.
“Oh you can’t be serious”, Rob said in reply. “I don’t know anything about this job”. Joe smiled.
“Actually, I think you do. I’ve been watching you and realized that you spend probably 90% of your time doing just one thing – trying to make your client’s happy”. Joe said.
“Well, a happy client is one who will stick around, and not darken my email door quite so much”. Rob said in reply.
“This job is really no different – managing this place is just about keeping people happy, employees and customers. There’s a small amount of corporate junk to deal with, and some annoyances, sure, but it’s not as bad as one would think.”, Joe said as he walked over to the door to lock it.
Rob looked at Joe, and for the first time realized that he wasn’t just a kid working here till he got a real job. Joe was a man, about the same age as Rob.
“You have any kids, Joe?”, Rob asked.
“Three”, Joe replied, “One in college, two in high school”.
Joe could see the skepticism in Rob’s eyes.
“The job pays enough – you’re not going to get rich, but you may add some years back on to your life in exchange for a little bit less money”, Joe grinned, “After all, what would you rather be, rich and dead or comfortable and able to attend your grandkid’s weddings?”.
The man started the new job a few weeks later. It was surprisingly easy to transition into, since he spent so much time there already. And it helped that the day shift remembered his generous tips, and were open to listening to his experiences while telling him theirs. After a few months, Rob noticed a man had started frequenting the shop in the early afternoons, sitting where he used to sit, and feverishly pounding away at his keyboard as Rob wiped the counter and counted the cash drawer. He couldn’t ponder the man for long though, a family he knew walked in the door and waved to him before they even reached the counter.